Mt. Shasta Backcountry Report

It’s November and late fall and early winter can be extremely variable on a Cascade Volcano. At least for us, it has been remarkable in the high quality conditions for ski and splitboard touring. Mt. Shasta received nearly 400% of precipitation (about 12″ of water) for October and with some November storms, our pack is currently measuring 4-6′ above treeline.

Broadway ski tour Mt. Shasta, CA

Broadway ski tour Mt. Shasta, CA

November ushered in our first true powder days of the new season. Ryan Ghelfi, SMG guide and professional runner inspired a dawn patrol ski tour that delivered an all-time powder day on Mt. Shasta. The early storms were warm and created a dense, smooth base. The final storms were much colder with snow levels down to 5,000′ and dropped 16″ of pow, still undisturbed by the wind. We scored!

Green Butte ridge Mt. Shasta, CA

Ryan scores first powder tuns of the new season

We both were amazed at the quality of the snow. The overall depth is still relatively shallow but the dense structure made for mid-winter conditions.

Mt. Shasta backcountrty powder skiing

Mt. Shasta backcountry powder skiing

Our last precip event was last night (11/11) and otherwise it has been a mild and sunny weather pattern. The fair weather and dense snow has created seriously smooth corn conditions between 8-11,000′ and excellent skiing. Although this changes rapidly.

November powder skiing Mt. Shasta, CA

November powder skiing Mt. Shasta, CA

The mild temps have receded the snow level and it’s necessary to walk about 10-15 minutes before being able to skin-up. The approach to treeline and back down is shallow; caution advised to minimize damage to equipment and self. However, the rewards are worth the effort and above 8,200′ is excellent. We have a smooth, consolidated snow pack and with proper timing and aspect awesome skiing and riding conditions can be found.

Taking snow depth measurements while touring to Lake Helen

Taking snow depth measurements while touring to Lake Helen

I’ve seen a surprising number of visiting skiers and climbers and it’s fun to welcome everyone to our area. It has been amazingly beautiful with fall colors, the low sun creates a glowing effect with the snowcapped Mt. Shasta standing majestically over town, and truly epic sun and clouds lately. We are so grateful to live here and share this experience with friends.

It looks like we’ll see some more precipitation next week and long term forecasts are calling for wet ending to November. Once we have 4-5′ of snow at Bunny Flat we will start leading ski tours. We are super excited about the jump start to our season and hope that this is a bountiful winter for all.

Early morning ski tour Green Butte Mt. Shasta, CA

Early morning ski tour Green Butte Mt. Shasta, CA

Mt. Shasta spring update and conditions report

It’s early spring on Mt. Shasta and this can mean many things. The sun may shine above a bank of clouds or we may be engulfed in a sea of fog. The weather may be mild and skiing sublime, or a winter-like storm with snow falling to town level. This is exactly what we have this week on Mt. Shasta, every day bringing changing weather and a variety of conditions.

Skiing Casaval Ridge Mt. Shasta, CA

Styles Larsen skiing Casaval Ridge Mt. Shasta, CA April 2016

We’ve seen mild temps with high freezing and snow levels, the skiing and climbing have been variable with good conditions found in the right places. That will change as a cold front approaches and looks to drop 6-12″ of new snow by Thursday 4/14. In other words, a spring powder day and chance to savor winter’s chilly winds and fresh snow. The front will quickly pass and be replaced by high pressure and above average temps by the weekend 4/16.

Sean Malee skis Powder Bowl, Mt. Shasta April 2016

Sean Malee skis Powder Bowl, Mt. Shasta April 2016

This is a fairly typical spring pattern with mild weather interrupted by short storms and moderate amounts of precipitation. Our first summit trip is planned on Casaval Ridge 4/15-17. With all the snow this year, this route is once again in excellent condition. Casaval requires a deep snowpack for best climbing and Mt. Shasta is well above average. We were scouting and skiing the lower route this week and found good snow and fun conditions.

Casaval Ridge Mt. Shasta, CA

Casaval Ridge Mt. Shasta, CA

This year’s snowpack is ideal for all the climbing and skiing routes on Mt. Shasta. Each will have it’s optimal window of best conditions with a long season anticipated. We’re gearing up and can’t wait to see our crew back for the upcoming climbing season. Our guide staff is what makes the experience with Shasta Mountain Guides unique. They are  genuinely committed to helping you achieve your goal while having a good time doing it.

Basecamp Hidden Valley Mt. Shasta, CA

Senior staff Rich Meyer, Eric Layton, Pat Bush at Hidden Valley Mt. Shasta, CA

As locals, we cherish not only the mountain but the surrounding area and are blessed with all manner of raw natural beauty. Wherever your interest lies for outdoor recreation, the Mt. Shasta area is abundant with quality experiences for all levels of adventure. We invite you to Far Northern California; Mt. Shasta will surprise you with accessible terrain for all.

Come visit our shop and store front at 230 N. Mt. Shasta Blvd. We’re adding products and will be hosting full time open hours this spring and summer. See you on Mt. Shasta!

Mt. Shasta Winter Backcountry Report

Winter 2016 has delivered on the hope of an abundant snowpack on Mt. Shasta. Storms were consistant in December and January and basically shut off in February with record warm days. Currently our snowpack is 90% of normal and 130% of normal for water, measuring about 116″ at 7,600′. With the outlook of a very wet March, this will only guarantee the prospect of an epic spring and summer on Mt. Shasta. Climbers and skiers are rejoicing!

Mt. Shasta 2016 ph: J.W.

Mt. Shasta 2016 ph: J.W.

The storm track looks to return and the hype is building to a proclamation of massive amounts of water headed to nearly all of California. The QPF totals keep increasing and as of now, the current prediction is anywhere from 6-12″ of water. This can translate to well over 10′ of snow across the Sierra crest and the southern Volcanoes. All we can say is Bring it On!

Backcountry skiing Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Backcountry skiing Shasta-Trinity National Forest

While we wait, we prep our bodies and gear and reflect on what a great winter it has been thus far. The powder has been enjoyed at all the old local zones once again. The spell of high pressure created enjoyable days on the mountain, seeking corn snow and even summits for the enthusiastic. Tall snow banks greet visitors at most trailheads and we anticipate snow to linger well into the summer months.

Backcountry skiing Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Backcountry skiing Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Ski touring is perfect training for the upcoming mountaineering season on Mt. Shasta. Climbing the Cascade Volcanoes is greatly enhanced with a deep snowpack and we’re eager for what will be an excellent summit season on the mountain.

Climbing Avalanche Gulch Mt. Shasta, CA

Climbing Avalanche Gulch Mt. Shasta, CA

We’re excited for what the next week will bring. The storm total mania has us hoping for the upper limit of the forecast and plotting powder days to come. With storms of this magnitude, be sure to check weather updates and warnings and of course the daily avalanche advisory from the Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center. Be safe in the backcountry and we’ll see you on the mountain!

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Upcoming Events:

March 5th: Film showing of Dream Line to benefit Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center

March 8: REI Berkeley Mt. Shasta climbing presentation by Chris Carr

March 9: REI San Francisco Mt. Shasta climbing presentation by Chris Carr

 

Mt. Shasta and the art of skiing corn

Winter in Northern California can be hard to define. It could serve up a severe winter storm with cold, blustery deep snow; or you may be slipping into flip flops under bright sunshine after enjoying a pleasant ski tour. Both can be equally enjoyable and one of the highlights of living and playing in and around Mt. Shasta.

We are currently in our mid winter break and seeing dry conditions and above average temps. Although we’re enjoying the spring like weather, it’s hard not to question when we will see a return to winter and regular storm systems. In 2011, the last big el nino year, we had 18 consecutive days of mild, dry conditions. This current pattern is not unusual and there is serious talk of a very wet and wild March. So best to enjoy the sun, tune up your gear, and get ready for the next wave bound for California.

It’s been a pretty festive winter and lots of stoked skiers and boarders again in California. Mt. Shasta has been putting on a quite a show this year and local photographer and dedicated dawn patrol skier Mike Hupp has been mesmorizing us with his stunning photography.

Mike Hupp Dawn Patrol Imags

Mike Hupp Dawn Patrol Imags

We live for the winter storm advisories but if the sun decides to come out and the thermometer climbs up, we’ll take advantage of the break and explore the backcountry looking for corn snow rather than powder. We love powder and here is a great video of what ski mountaineering on Mt. Shasta looks like. Huge props to local student and future SMG guide Owen Stroud.

YouTube Preview Image

It can be said that corn skiing ranks a close second to pure powder as skier’s favorite. It’s hard to argue about powder’s superiority but like many things lusted after; its opportunities are more limited and temporary on a 14,000’ Cascade volcano. What Mt. Shasta may lack in consistent powder days, we certainly make up for with what’s been described as “the best corn on the planet…”

Sean Malee surfs the magic carpet of perfect Mt. Shasta corn snow

Sean Malee surfs the magic carpet of perfect Mt. Shasta corn snow

If you’re unfamiliar; corn snow is the product of a high water content, melt-freeze cycled, snowpack. As the pack metamorphosizes, it consolidates into a singular, cohesive unit that freezes hard at night and the top 2-3 inches melts during the day to create a magic carpet surface that is pure fun to ski and board. Corn snow is often combined with a lower (not eliminated) avalanche hazard and milder temps. Couple this with cold drinks stashed in the snowberm at the trailhead and a pair of the above mentioned flip flops and that adds up to a pretty fine day in the backcountry.

Backcountry skiing Mt. Shasta, CA

Backcountry skiing Mt. Shasta, CA

With an El Nino like we are experiencing, there is no question there will be many prime corn skiing days this season on Mt. Shasta. We are currently well above normal for both snowpack and water content, so we’re confidant the climbing and skiing will be in the optimal range this year.

There is still plenty of winter remaining and if forecasts are true we could get back to wet weather possibly by next week. There will be a fun event March 5th as a film showing of Dream Line to support the Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center. Swedish Filmaker Bjarne Salen has recently relocated to Mt. Shasta and judging by his Instagram he is getting after it and enjoying his new backyard playground. Welcome Bjarne, we look forward to seeing the film!

Have a great holiday weekend and stay safe in the backcountry!

Mt. Shasta Guide Report: 12 Straight Days in Avalanche Gulch

Here is another in our series of special guide posts and trip reports. This comes from Greg Cunningham, a senior guide and dedicated skier. Greg spends the winter as a ski patroller at Kirkwood Mountain Resort and heads to Mt. Shasta as soon as the resort closes for the spring and summer volcano season.

Greg Cunningham Mt. Shasta summit plateau

Greg Cunningham Mt. Shasta summit plateau

We often say that what makes SMG special is our amazingly talented and skilled guide staff. We are honored to have such a capable crew who are passionate about the outdoors and sharing that experience with our guests. Thanks Greg and our entire guide family!

 

 

 

12 Straight Days in Avalanche Gulch

The 2015 guiding season with Shasta Mountain Guides got started in a hurry. After another meager winter in Tahoe, I was eager to get back up to Mt. Shasta and coax what I could out of the remaining ski season. My first ski trip was scheduled for April 25-27, and conditions were looking good; high pressure, warm days, and cool nights promised classic Shasta corn. Driving north from Kirkwood, I didn’t yet realize that my first three day would turn into a 12 day marathon of four consecutive ski trips, stellar clients, great friends, and 40,000 vertical feet of some of the best spring skiing anywhere.

Orly skiing up the lunar landscape of the Lower Gulch

Orly skiing up the lunar landscape of the Lower Gulch

Trip number one brought clear skies, perfect conditions, and two great guests. Luke and Orly showed up psyched and ready to go. We wasted no time getting after it, and spent the first two days skiing dreamy Shasta corn, acclimatizing, and dialing in our climbing skills for summit day. On summit day, conditions were absolutely ideal, and after recruiting Jacob from guide training to help out, we got Luke to the summit, skied two great ski lines and got a rare guided ski descent of the Trinity Chutes in great condition.

Kyle carefully climbing into the center Trinity Chute

Kyle carefully climbing into the center Trinity Chute

The second trip of the streak was a personal trip with friends from Kirkwood, and as I returned to Horsecamp the next day, I felt like I had never left. We were even able to use the same tent platforms that we had sculpted in the snow on the previous trip. This trip was a bit more casual than the first, but there was no shortage of motivated skiers, classic lines and great snow. I left my friends on Thursday evening and skied out to Bunny Flat, knowing that I would run into them tomorrow as I headed back in with my next group.

Skiing out of the Trinities

Skiing out of the Trinities

The third trip of the corn shredding extravaganza brought Phil and Andrew for Andrew’s birthday celebration, and probably the best conditions of the spring thus far. We quickly became friends, and since I had spent the previous six days skiing in Avalanche Gulch, we wasted no time finding the good skiing. The truth is, at this point in the weather cycle, the good skiing was everywhere, and it was hard to go wrong.  We skied great lines off of Casaval Ridge and in the Lower Gulch, and then lounged in the afternoon sun, as we rested up for our summit day.  On summit day, we started at 4am under a full moon that completely illuminated the Mountain, so much so that we didn’t need to use our headlamps. Climbing conditions were excellent, and we summited and skied 6,000′ continuous vert of Mt Shasta magic.

Dan and I on the summit on the fourth and final trip

Dan and I on the summit on the fourth and final trip

My fourth and final consecutive trip brought Dan out from Manhattan in search of a summit and a ski descent all the way back down.  We spent the first two days skiing, exploring all that Avalanche Gulch has to offer, and practicing our climbing skills for what was forecasted to be a somewhat rugged summit day. Our summit day was cold and a stiff north wind was blowing. Besides one other party, we were apparently the only ones on the upper mountain.  The snow was in excellent condition for cramponing, and we made good progress and summited right at noontime. The cold temps and north winds weren’t very conducive to soft skiing. Luckily, Dan grew up skiing in New England and is no stranger to skiing hard snow. We negotiated the upper mountain smoothly and efficiently, and to our relief, found softening snow for the last couple thousand feet of our run.  Although conditions were challenging at times, Dan was psyched and the trip was a total success.

And so concluded an epic start to the 2015 season.  4 ski trips back to back, summits on every trip, day after day of endless corn skiing, and 12 days and 40,000 vertical feet of human powered skiing. Mount Shasta has an entire range worth of skiing on one mountain, and although we skied only in Avalanche Gulch for the entire time, we were always skiing different lines and never getting bored.  Avalanche Gulch is still holding good snow, but my attention is now turning towards the other sides of the mountain in hopes of riding out the ski season as long as possible. Reports from the West Face are of good coverage and great, smooth snow, and it’s about time to start heading out to explore the North and East sides of the mountain.  I have a feeling I’ll be skiing for another month or more, and I can’t wait to share some more turns with new guests and old friends alike.

Climb Mt. Shasta 2014

May 1, 2014 and it’s time to climb! We generally consider May Day to be the unofficial start to the Shasta summit season. May brings mild days, a stable snowpack, and fantastic conditions on a majority of routes on Mt. Shasta. Mountaineers and back country skiers will find a couple feet of snow at Bunny Flat and 5-7 feet of snow above treeline. Record high temps today (4/30) and measurable precipitation possible next week with low snow levels; crazy weather this year!

Guides at Lake Helen

Guides at Lake Helen

 

Rich and Patrick at 10,400

Rich and Patrick at 10,400

Snow anchors and lowers at 10,400'

Snow anchors and lowers at 10,400′

We completed our first guide training April 26-28 and had a productive and informative session. Dave Miller UIAGM/IFMGA/AMGA led the technical training and Rich Meyer shared his world wide perspective and expertise with our new staff and returning guides.  We are thrilled by our staff this season, climb with us and you will be too.

Backcountry skiing and alpine starts

Backcountry skiing and alpine starts

California is officially in drought conditions this year. Although far from optimal, there is still excellent opportunity for fun and enjoyable conditions on the mountain. The climbing and skiing currently are superb. May should hold good snow for the ski mountaineers, and likely into June on the northeast side glaciers. The south side routes will hold good climbing conditions through June and possibly longer. And the north side climbs will be a good choice through July and August.

There is still some unknown, as we have seen May be extremely cold and wet in seasons past. We are on the mountain daily and will keep current on the ever changing weather and snowpack.

Perfect Spring conditions on Mt. Shasta

Perfect Spring conditions on Mt. Shasta

Mt. Shasta is in a gusty high pressure currently with the possibility of wet weather early next week. We have several trips starting this week are back to full operation. Call or email for updates or to join one of groups, we look forward to seeing you on the Mountain!

Winter’s coming to Mt. Shasta

It’s snowing on the mountain! Temps are falling, the wind is blowing, and some much anticipated flakes are falling from the sky. Sure, we’ll be measuring in inches and not in feet, however any precipitation is a welcome sight. And we can get a season’s worth of snow in one storm cycle so we’re keeping our eyes on the horizon. It’s not uncommon with this northerly flow that we see both low snow levels and accumulation. It’s also not uncommon that a cold, fierce north wind will follow up, so at least it will feel like winter and maybe some of that elusive Siskiyou County ice will appear.

Mt. Shasta in Winter

Mt. Shasta in Winter

We are super eager to see what the upcoming season will bring. While (im)patiently waiting for the start of the Shasta backcountry ski season, our guides are no less active in the fall and have literally been to the ends of the earth pursuing their dreams.

Rich Meyer’s passport has been getting some serious mileage lately. His latest adventure/trip that we’re super jealous about, took him to Antarctica as part of the Ice Axe Expedition’s ski cruise.

Antarctic Ski Cruise

Antarctic Ski Cruise

After crossing the Drake Passage the boatload (hah!) of skiers would disembark via Zodiacs to glacial landings which accessed untravelled terrain. All this under the careful watch of penguins, sea lions, and Antarctic landscapes. Rich was part of an elite guide team that explored and safely led folks on the trip of a lifetime. Wow! Awesome Rich!

Locals

Ski with penguins

Dave Miller has been covering some ground as well. Classic climbs of the Alps in September, guiding the Mexico volcano trilogy in October, and enjoying the abundant rock beauty of the desert southwest, Dave continually applies his trade with skill and passion. We’ll see Dave back leading SMG’s guide training, or perhaps for an Alps ski tour this year…

Dave Miller on the summit of the Grepon

Dave Miller on the summit of the Grepon

Andrew Dickie and Patrick Chu finished their last trip on Mt. Shasta and drove straight to the Bugaboos for some inspiring alpine climbing. In case you needed another objective on your tick list, there are some stunning routes to be done up north.

AD and PC high in BC

British Columbia alpine rock

Our entire staff has been hard not at work. From the Tetons to Tahoe, Bugaboos to Baja, all of us enjoying some personal time and new challenges. We are all looking forward to the upcoming Mt. Shasta season with new stories and adventures to share.

Coming this winter:

Rich will be back in Mt. Shasta January 18th for our first AIARE Avalanche Level I Course. This is mandatory for back country skiers and climbers. SMG is the only guide service offering an AIARE certified course on Mt. Shasta. We have 5 spaces remaining, you can register here: SMG AIARE Level I. We have dates in February and March as well with space available.

We will be scheduling custom trips on Mt. Shasta. Day ski tours, skills clinics, and winter summit climbs are just a few of the winter options found on Mt. Shasta. Please call or email for details. Winter trips are primarily custom based, we can accommodate most any request.

See you when the snow flies!